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Friday, 29 May 1914

Senator MCDOUGALL (New South Wales) . - I desire to state in a few words my reasons for opposing the motion of Senator Pearce. It is not because I am a hot-blooded Scotchman, but simply because I believe that an injustice will be done to a certain class in the community. We hear a lot about the great Australian sentiment, and I claim that no one possesses that in a higher degree than I do. 2?o one has been a stronger advocate of universal training than I have been; but, at the same time, I feel that certain little pin-pricks in connexion with the defence system should be avoided. Many persons are inconvenienced without reason. Scarcely a day elapses without my having to interview the Minister of Defence to ask- him to remedy certain grievances, and I must admit that he is doing his best to remove them. The innovation proposed by Senator Pearce is entirely unnecessary. What we desire to secure is a force of good fighting men to defend Australia in the time of need. It should not matter to us how they dress, as long as they can fight. If any body of men desire to wear the kilts, then, by all means, let them wear them. I glory in the man who, coming here from another part of the British Empire, continues to hold dear the traditions of the race from which he sprang. I intend to oppose the motion. In putting it before us, Senator Pearce said that one reason why the regulation should be disallowed was that many who desired to enter these distinctive regiments would not have an opportunity to do so. A little while ago he told us that men were not desirous of entering such regiments. In the one breath he said that they did not desire to join them, and in the next that there was no room for those who wished to join them. Some of the volunteer regiments in New South Wales did yeoman service for the country in years gone by, devoting practically a lifetime to the work of making themselves proficient in defence matters; but their ardour has been destroyed by the treatment to which they have been subjected by the Department. One of the finest regiments in Australia has almost been disbanded because of the disabilities imposed upon it by the Department of Defence in its effort not to carry out Lord Kitchener's scheme. The trouble is that the Department has never attempted to provide for certain features of that scheme. That is particularly so in respect of coastal defence. We had in New South Wales a volunteer regiment which was able to take its place with any of the regular Defence Forces in manning the forts along the coast. That regiment, however, has been almost disbanded because of the shabby treatment meted out to it. And the result is that we have not got to-day either the first or the second line of relief proposed by Lord Kitchener. Why should the Scottish regiment or the Irish regiment be wiped out? Senator Oakes has said that a march past to-day is one of the dullest sights that could be seen, because of the uniform worn by the troops. I fully agree with him. I have been in communication with a number of military officers - both militia and permanent officers - and have not discovered one who offers any objection to the wearing of the kilts by the Scottish Regiment The lack of enthusiasm which is noticeable in connexion with marches past today is due, I think, to the want of distinguishing uniforms. At present, in a march-past, one regiment cannot be distinguished from another. I read in a newspaper some time ago an opinion expressed by a prominent military officer on the question of distinctive dress, which, I think, hits the nail on the head. The report of the interview with this officer is as follows : - " It is a serious mistake," said a prominent military officer, "to deprive regiments of longexisting distinctive characteristics of uniform. It has a very bad effect. Men lose interest in their regiment - not merely because of the alteration of uniform, but because that alteration seems to indicate antagonism towards them, or, at any rate, disregard for their predilections, rather than kindly sympathy. "Even in a conscription country like Germany, regiments have striking and distinctive uniforms. There are the Scarlet Hussars, Blue Hussars, and so on. Here we are dressed like convicts, and one regiment looks like another. It is an unfortunate blunder. It would be thought that the desire of the authorities all the time would be to increase interest in the regiments rather than to slacken it. If it is their desire to increase interest they are going a very peculiar way about it. They will surely deaden it. "At present there is a very great deal of bitterness on the subject, and if the Federal Government really understood the feeling they would alter their attitude towards those who arc entrusted with the great national duty of securing the safety of this country. " I am sure, anyhow," lie concluded, " that if the people thoroughly understood the question they would sympathize with us so heartily that the Government would have to revise its plans in respect of a deadly dull similarity of all uniforms. Any one who says there is nothing in distinctive uniforms immediately indicates lack of knowledge of the world's history. Let him read up the histories of the wars of all countries, and the lives of the great soldiers of bygone days, and he cannot fail to come to the conclusion that there is a lot in the uniform."

Senator Pearcedrew a very pathetic picture of the plight of an Australian lad being compelled to go into camp, wearing only his kilts, during a spell of cold weather. I do not think he understands the Australian. We have had walking about Sydney, in bitterly cold weather, a man who is wearing scarcely anything.

Senator Mullan - And he has been locked up for it.

Senator McDOUGALL - Not because of the scantiness of his attire, but for other reasons. He wears very little, but stands the cold weather well, and is. the picture of health. This reason advanced by Senator Pearce for the abolition of the kilts is about the most sickly and sentimental I have ever heard. Scotchmen are willing to- wear the kilts in the coldest weather, and it is ridiculous to say that to send them into camp so attired in cold weather would be to subject them to hardship. The honorable senator objects to distinctions in dress, but at the present time in connexion with our universal training system distinctions are drawn to which I am strongly opposed. The Fisher Government were responsible for their introduction, and I opposed them then, as I do now. I refer specially to the distinction in the matter of drill between boys whose parents can afford to keep them at school, and those who have to work. Youths attending school may drill during school hours; but the unfortunate lads who have to work for their living are compelled to undergo a training in their own time. It is idle for the honorable senator to complain that distinctive regimental dress would make an undesirable distinction between one citizen and another in our Defence Forces. Why not get rid of other distinctions which now exist? I hope that the motion will not be carried, my opinion being that the Scotch, the Irish, the Welsh, or any other section of the community strong enough to form a regiment, or a half-battalion, should be allowed to wear whatever uniform they please.

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